USDA Forest Service

Pacific Southwest Research Station
Pacific Southwest
Research Station

800 Buchanan Street
Albany, CA 94710-0011
(510) 883-8830
United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

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Meet Shyh-Chin Chen, research meteorologist

A photo of Shyh-Chin Chen sitting next to a monitor displaying his Firebuster tool that he developed.
Shyh-Chin Chen is a research meteorologist for the Pacific Southwest Research Station in California. Having experienced wildland fire literally on his homeís doorstep at least several times during the last decade, he has a passion for developing new weather forecasting tools to help firefighters predict and combat fires more effectively. Here he is shown with the Firebuster web tool. (U.S. Forest Service)
  • What do you do for the Pacific Southwest Research Station?

    I'm a research meteorologist here at the Pacific Southwest Research Station. Our purpose is to try and protect people's lives and their property. We want to protect the life of the firefighter and reduce the cost of fire suppression. I'm connecting the meteorology side of fire with the firefighters to give them better tools to fight wildfires more effectively with more timely information.

  • What excites you about our job?

    As a trained meteorologist, Iím excited about using my talent so it can be applied to real situations to help people actually involved in fire suppression work. In my previous work at a university, I didnít know who was actually using my research. With the Forest Service, I get to work closely with other fire meteorologists and fire captains from Southern California by attending meetings to discuss fire situations, see the progress weíre making, and introduce new developments to help fight wildfires.

    I recently developed a web-based tool called Firebuster that will be able to deliver high-resolution weather information directly to firefighters on site. In Southern California, the firefighters fight in tough, mountainous terrain. Very complicated wind patterns travel through the hills and valleys. Our firefighters need information at a highly detailed scale that isnít available anywhere else.

  • Why do you call it Firebuster?

    Well, Iím a Ghostbusters fan, so I thought Firebuster sounds like a pretty good name because it fits the purpose. Currently in the testing phase, we take much larger scale weather conditions and reduce it to a very small scale, so itís more relevant to the actual terrain where the fire is occurring. This means we can actually work with the firefighter who can tell us what kind of information they need for what location and in what format. They send their request at any time of day via the internet to Firebuster, and our super computer generates the high-resolution weather model forecast for that location. Using a handheld mobile device, they can receive the weather forecast right away.

  • What are the benefits?

    The benefits are more accurate forecasts delivered more quickly into the hands of the people that really need it. My goal is to get weather forecasts at the smallest scale possible for the furthest time range possible ó a three-day forecast. Currently, I can get down to 1 kilometer resolution and hope to get it even smaller. Iíd also like to be able to make a fire danger forecast five months before fire season arrives to determine how severe the fire problem may be.

  • Have you had any particularly interesting or unusual experiences in your Forest Service career? Do any particular memories stand out?

    In 2007, there was a very famous fire in San Diego where I live. The Witch Creek Fire was one of the major fires burning in Southern California and burned thousands of homes. I was about to fly a red eye that day to a fire conference on the East Coast, and the fire was burning in Ramona, about 35 miles from our home. My wife asked me 'Will we be okay?' I said 'Don't worry, honey, this is the research I do, and if the fire really gets to our home, the fire would burn everything between Ramona and here. We shall be okay.' When I landed in Boston, I got a phone message from my wife saying 'Honey, come back. We've just been evacuated.'

    Houses in front of and in back of our home burned down. In the middle of the night, a police car with its light spinning sat outside our home, and a firefighter pounded on our door and told my wife to get out. She had five minutes to get dressed, grab her driver's license and leave. Later, she saw a firefighter on TV spraying water on top of our house's roof.

    In 2003, just before I joined the Forest Service, the Cedar Fire, one of the largest in California's history, burned about 2 miles from my house. I was packed, but we didn't have to evacuate.

    In 2014, I nearly had to evacuate again, this time from the Bernardo Fire. I didn't know whether to feel honored or scared when the California Fire Department named a fire after my neighborhood in Rancho Bernardo, which is merely 3 miles from the origin of this fire.

  • How has that affected your work?

    Well, it's really motivated me to help predict fires faster and more accurately in hopes we can prevent or put out the fires more quickly and allow people to safely evacuate as needed.

    Because the fire came through my backyard in 2007, I'm more aware of the need to pay attention to fire safety around the house. I had a big pile of firewood under my roof, close to the house, and it burned, though a firefighter put it out — clearly not a good way to do things. All my backyard fruit trees were damaged as well as some of the house structure, but the house was saved. Now I'm more conscientious of the need to remove all fire hazard material away from the home and clean up the field around my house.

  • What kinds of hobbies interest you?

    I love to learn different languages as a way of understanding heritages. I speak Taiwanese, Mandarin Chinese and English. And I am learning Japanese.

    Iíve participated in two particular hobbies in the last 20 years. I play tennis every week and practice Japanese Kendo, a martial art involving bamboo sword fighting, which is sort of like fencing. Itís healthy because I get all my anguish and bad feelings out on the court, plus itís great exercise. There are a total of eight degree belts to be at the top, and Iím a third degree black belt right now ó not sure if Iíll go any higher.

  • In May, we celebrated Asian Pacific Heritage Month. What does your Asian heritage mean to you?

    One of the things I like to tell my co-workers is that I am Taiwanese, not Chinese, and surprisingly, not too many people know the differences between Taiwan and China. Iím really a Pacific Islander with one-quarter Chinese blood, Indonesian heritage and Aboriginal Taiwanese.

    Iíve served on a committee that promotes diversity in our workplace and working environment. That meant we focused on service within our work and community which highlighted our similarities, even though we came from different backgrounds. I thought one of the best ways to understand a peopleís heritage is to share food from a different culture. What you find out is though our appearances may be different, we share the same ultimate purpose.

Last Modified: Sep 29, 2017 11:55:11 AM